Reducing Stigma Surrounding Substance Use Disorders: The Importance of Language

One of the most important steps we can take to counter stigma surrounding substance use and addiction is to be careful about the language we use. Multiple studies have shown that how we talk about substance use and people who use substances can affect people’s engagement in treatment and achievement of recovery.This collection contains resources that explain the importance of carefully choosing words and provides examples of stigma-free language:

  • A plain language summary of a study that looked at the effects of language on people’s attitudes towards people who use substances from the Recovery Research Institute
  • A link to the Recovery Research Institute’s Addictionary that lists language patients, providers, and policymakers can use that is non-stigmatizing and creates a supportive treatment environment for substance use disorders
  • Two one-page infographics that list non-stigmatizing language options when speaking about substance use disorders
  • A 2017 memorandum from the White House Office of Drug Control Policy directing federal agency staff to use non-stigmatizing language when talking about substance use disorders
  • A 2-page guide to non-stigmatizing language from the National Judicial Opioid Task Force
Policymakers & Community Leaders
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Patients & Caregivers

The Real Stigma of Substance Use Disorders: Does it Matter How We Talk About People with Substance Use Disorder?

Source: Recovery Research Institute

This web page summarizes a study that looked at the effects of language on  attitudes towards people who use substances. The study offered participants two descriptions of individuals — a person who was a “substance abuser” or a person who “had a substance use disorder” – and then asked several questions about the participant’s impressions of these persons.

External Website
Policymakers & Community Leaders
Payers & Providers
Patients & Caregivers

Addictionary

Source: Recovery Research Institute

This “Addictionary” created by the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital lists language patients, providers, and policy makers can use that is not stigmatizing and creates a supportive treatment environment for substance use disorders.

External Website
Policymakers & Community Leaders
Payers & Providers
Patients & Caregivers

Private: Stop the Stigma

Source: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

This 1-page infographic explains how using words can reduce stigma around substance use and encourage people to access appropriate treatment and support.

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Policymakers & Community Leaders
Payers & Providers

Language Matters Infographic

Source: Addiction Policy Forum

This one page infographic from the Addiction Policy Forum focuses on the importance of using appropriate and non-stigmatizing language when discussing substance use disorders.

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Policymakers & Community Leaders
Payers & Providers
Patients & Caregivers

Changing Federal Terminology Regarding Substance Use and Substance Use Disorders

Source: White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

This January 2017 memorandum from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy alerts federal agency staff to recommended changes in language use related to substance use and substance use disorders. The recommended changes in language use are intended to reduce stigma and support treatment for substance use disorders.

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Policymakers & Community Leaders

Words Matter: Judicial Language and Substance Use Disorders

Source: National Judicial Opioid Task Force

A briefing paper by the National Judicial Opioid Task Force describing how judicial personnel can reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder and improve engagement in and success with treatment by making conscious choices about the language used. A list of commonly used stigmatizing words

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